Time Limits on Abuse Should Be Abolished
Ehardt Legislation Must Be Passed

Port Huron Times Herald [Michigan]
Downloaded August 27, 2003

Terrible revelations of priest sexual abuse have rocked the Catholic Church. As shocking as the scandal has become, at least it has offered many of the victims a measure of closure.

Because church policy historically prevented full disclosure of the crimes and routinely transferred offenders to distant parishes, many victims were denied the chance for justice or even to confront their abusers. That practice was especially unfair to those abused decades ago.

Despite the painful progress the scandal has yielded, there still are needed reforms to pursue. Some victims cannot seek relief because state statutes of limitation have expired, but they, too, deserve justice.

State Rep. Stephen Ehardt hopes to change that. The Lexington Republican is working on legislation to abolish Michigan's statute of limitations on civil lawsuits where children were sexually abused. The four-bill package Ehardt plans to introduce also would drop time limits for filing criminal charges in sexual abuse cases involving minors.

At least 33 Catholic priests have ben removed, suspended or have left their duties amid sexual abuse or misconduct accusations in Michigan since Jan. 1, 2002. At least 20 of these cases involve minors.

The proposed reforms are welcome news. If enacted into law, they should help to strengthen prosecutors and victims in their quest for justice.

Ehardt's former chief of staff played a critical role in the formulation of these measures. Mark Powell, 43, said he was first abused at a Davenport, Iowa, monastery in 1977 and four years later in Rome where he was studying to become a priest.

Powell's interest in the proposed legislation apparently became too personal. Ehardt fired him Tuesday after Powell allegedly scheduled hearings on sexual abuse without Ehardt's approval.

The former aide's zeal is regrettable. The importance of these proposed reforms, however, is not diminished.

When children are victimized, their assailants must be brought to justice -- no matter how long it takes. Making the laws serve these victims is the right thing to do.

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